It can’t be a mere coincidence that RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya sets off a controversy on reservations every time an assembly election is due in a Mandal state that is crucial for the fortunes of both the BJP and Narendra Modi.
The first time the issue erupted to damage the saffron party’s poll prospects was on the eve of the 2015 Bihar state elections. At that time, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat called for a total review of the reservations policy to see whether it had benefitted those it was supposed to help climb up the socio-economic ladder. The remarks were Bhagwat’s but significantly, they came in response to a loaded question posed by Manmohan Vaidya during an interview to the RSS magazine Panchjanya.
This time, Vaidya himself has lit a fire under the BJP. Just weeks before polling begins in Uttar Pradesh, he questioned the rationale of reservations, saying quotas in perpetuity divide society. The venue was the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Attack on Mandal Politics
Even as senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosable rushed to do damage control with an assurance that reservations would remain as long as they were part of the Constitution, Vaidya’s father MG Vaidya stoked the flames the very next day. Quotas for SC and ST communities are okay, he said, but reservations for all other groups should be reviewed by an expert committee.
This was a direct attack on the Mandal policy, under which a slew of OBC groups are eligible for reservations in jobs and educational institutions. The damage is severe as the pivot of Amit Shah’s UP campaign is to consolidate the OBCs with the BJP.
Conspiracy theorists in the BJP circles see a design behind the seemingly innocuous remarks by the Vaidya father and son duo. After all, both were simply reiterating the RSS’ position on reservations. The RSS has always championed a time bar on the quota policy, using Dalit icon BR Ambedkar as an alibi. Although Dalit groups contest it, the RSS maintains that Ambedkar had once said that reservations should not be a permanent state.
The question is this: Why should the Vaidyas bring up the issue just before elections in states that have thrived on Mandal politics for nearly three decades?
The answer may lie in the rocky relationship the father and son have with PM Modi. Rewind to 2012 when Manmohan Vaidya was the RSS prant pracharak for Gujarat and Modi was chief minister. Vaidya and Modi were locked in a silent tussle. Significantly, one of the chief bones of contention was Vaidya’s support to Modi’s bête noire Sanjay Joshi.
Modi and Joshi fell out shortly after the 2002 Gujarat riots and their quarrel resulted in Joshi’s expulsion from Gujarat where he was the BJP state unit’s organising secretary.
BJP sources say that Vaidya too was thrown out of the state before the 2012 assembly election at Modi’s insistence. Modi suspected that Vaidya was working to defeat him through rebels like Gordhan Zadafiya who had floated their own party for the 2012 polls.
Vaidya was moved to Delhi and subsequently appointed chief spokesperson for the RSS.
Vaidya has set off a controversy on reservations every time an assembly election is due in a Mandal state
Controversy over reservations cannot be good for the BJP just before the elections in UP
Conspiracy theorists in BJP circles see a design behind seemingly innocuous remarks by the Vaidya father and son duo.
Many allege that the raking up of mandal politics is an attempt to derail Narendra Modi’s plans for UP
Interestingly, around the time his son was removed from Gujarat, Vaidya senior took on Modi in blog. He blamed Modi for spiking a second term for Nitin Gadkari as the BJP president. This was in 2012 when Gadkari was widely expected to get another term and lead the BJP into the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Just as the RSS was on the verge of finalising the decision, Gadkari was trapped in a financial scandal around his Purti company.
Even at that time, it was suspected that the scandal was fuelled by elements within the BJP who were inimical to Gadkari. Vaidya boldly pointed the needle of suspicion at Modi in his blog, accusing the then Gujarat chief minister of starting the smear campaign to eliminate Gadkari from the race to be named the BJP’s PM candidate in 2014.
Controversy Over Reservations Cannot Be Good for the BJP
Vaidya’s blog caused a furore. Ironically, son Manmohan had to issue a statement distancing the RSS from the blog. Those were personal views, not the official position of the RSS, Manmohan Vaidya was forced to say.
Whether deliberate or innocent, a controversy over reservations cannot be good for the BJP just before an election in UP or Bihar. Lalu Yadav played merry hell into the BJP’s campaign with Bhagwat’s demand for a review of the reservations policy. Whether the RSS chief was responsible for the BJP’s humiliating defeat that year is debatable but he certainly made the party’s Bihar leaders squirm.
Mayawati has quickly pounced on Vaidya’s remark to brand the BJP as an upper caste party that has always opposed reservations for the backward and oppressed. She is bound to play it up again and again through the seven phases of polling.
RSS supporters like to pretend that their leaders are simple apolitical people who never compromise on basic principles and ideology. But the Vaidyas have been around long enough and that too at a time when the BJP has grown into a major player in Indian politics. They are savvy enough to understand the consequences of their utterances on an issue that touches a raw nerve in both UP and Bihar.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)